President’s letter to Opposition Leader misinterpreted CCJ’s instructions – legal analysts

Appointment of GECOM Chair

– stress necessity for CCJ to issue timelines to hold elections

The suggestion by President David Granger that he be allowed to submit nominees for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chairman continues to befuddle legal minds, with two analysts questioning whether this is may be a ruse to further delay the election process.

The panellists on Globespan. From left: former AG Anil Nandlall, moderator Sase Singh and former Speaker of the House, Ralph Ramkarran

During an appearance on the Globespan 24×7 live show in New York on Sunday, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall noted that the letter in which the suggestion was made, which was penned on Granger’s behalf by Director General Joseph Harmon, entirely misinterpreted what the Caribbean Court of justice (CCJ) had suggested.
“Mr Harmon is a lawyer of more than a dozen years standing. Mr Harmon cannot be seriously writing that kind of letter. Look at the paragraph he quoted, intending to use that paragraph to say that the CCJ said that the President is to submit names. That paragraph says no such thing!” Nandlall said.
“What the CCJ meant, they said look, it’s a consensual process that will have to produce these names. And, therefore, since the Opposition Leader cannot in isolation, submit names, the CCJ suggested a more sensible approach is to engage, and in the engagement, names can float informally from the President. We are big, intelligent people!”
The former Attorney General pointed out that the role of the Opposition Leader in submitting names for the President to consider was never in any question. But he noted that suddenly, the President and his team have raised this as a new red herring.
Nandlall’s fellow guest, former Speaker of the House and Senior Counsel, Ralph Ramkarran questioned whether the President’s suggestion was intended to frustrate the process. He noted that both the CCJ and the Constitution are quite clear about the need for dialogue between the President and Opposition Leader.
“I think they’re trying to delay. This is another effort to delay the process. And that is why it is vital for the CCJ to set a timeframe [for the appointment of Chairman, elections]. President Granger does not have an equal status as the Opposition Leader, under the Article.”
“Article 161 of the Constitution is quite clear when you read it. It has been misinterpreted by the President. The CCJ has pronounced on it. It is again misinterpreted by the President. The President wants his own way. He wants his own interpretation. And the objective of this is stubbornness, and for the purpose of creating delay,” Ramkarran said.

The letter
The letter in question was written by Harmon, who based his reasoning for suggesting the President nominate a GECOM Chairman on the CCJ’s request that the two sides meet and discuss eligible candidates. Harmon also suggested Jagdeo consider this before a date for his meeting with the President is set.
In its judgement on the appointment of former Chairman, retired Justice James Patterson, the CCJ had said clearly that “once the President and the Leader of the Opposition have hammered out a list of names not unacceptable to the President, the list, comprising the six persons, must then formally be submitted to the President by the Leader of the Opposition and the President must then select the Chairman from among those names”.
While explaining the consensual process to appoint the GECOM Chairman, the CCJ had gone on to advise that “This approach gives the President a role in the identification of the six names, but it obviates [eliminates] the possibility that after the formal presentation of the list, the President could suggest that one or more of the names or indeed the entire list, is unacceptable”.
In addition, Article 161 (2) of the Constitution states that “…the Chairman of the Elections Commission shall be a person who holds or who has held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court or who is qualified to be appointed as any such judge, or any other fit and proper person…”
It goes on to outline the process by which the Chairman is appointed, stating that the Chairman is “to be appointed by the President from a list of six persons, not unacceptable to the President, submitted by the Leader of the Opposition after meaningful consultation [between] political parties represented in the National Assembly”.
Not unsurprisingly, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), through its executive member Gail Teixeira, rejected the President’s proposal in a missive dated the same day as the President’s letter.
Teixeira pointed out that Article 161 of the Constitution makes it the Opposition Leader’s job to submit names to the President, not the other way around. She noted that to do otherwise would be a case of the President usurping the Opposition Leader’s role.
The former Chief Whip also noted that the CCJ was merely providing guidance on how to conduct the engagement with the two sides. Notwithstanding this, however, Teixeira had informed Harmon that the Opposition Leader was open to the President suggesting names, informally.
The CCJ is expected to issue consequential orders on its rulings pertaining to the No-Confidence Motion and possibly the appointment of a new GECOM Chairman when it meets with all the involved parties on July 12.